When one of the rulers of Travancore, now a part of the southern Indian state of Kerala, handed over the reins of his territory to Lord Padmanabha, the presiding deity of Thiruvananthapuram, and undertook to take care of it in the Lords name, his idea was that he had assumed even greater responsibility as he was answerable to the Almighty.
But the characterisation of Kerala as “God’s own country”, though made as a tribute to its beauty and tranquility, has an unfortunate connotation that the welfare of the state is in the hands of God and the people have been absolved of responsibility of safeguarding its future. “God alone knows”, “God save his own country” and such comments are common at times of crises. No wonder, therefore, that the devastating floods of August have been attributed by some to the ire of gods.
It took the international media and the United Nations a whole week to realise that this is a tragedy of humongous proportions. National and international assistance is pouring in rather belatedly after the state was stretched beyond its capacity to save lives. It took time even for the Government of India to realise the extent of the tragedy. Normally a state torn by political, religious and caste strife, where violence is not uncommon, Kerala rose to the occasion, leaving aside the differences and without engaging in the blame game. But it will take a long time to assess what could have been done and what should be done in the future. The only disaster of a similar nature the Kerala remembers rather vaguely is the flood of 1924. The lessons learnt from that experience have been lost after a century. But what could have been done was to locate the water levels recorded in certain places and avoided building homes and other facilities above those levels or moved away from those areas altogether. This was obviously not done because of a feeling that history would not be repeated. By TP Sreenivasan (IANS)